Shake Up

We’re living through a very difficult time right now. Anxiety, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown seems to have invaded many of our lives in a short period of time. The coronavirus has shaken up our lives. It has shaken up our routines. It has shaken up our jobs. It has shaken up our investments and bank accounts. It has shaken up our social calendar. It has shaken up our families. It has shaken up our relationships and connection with others.

I’m going to be honest. I worry about what this “shake up” means in my life and those I love. But, I worry even more about what it means in the lives of kids.

Kids’ familiar daily routines have been disrupted with the closing of schools. The in-person classroom environment and the support of an afterschool program to help kids achieve academically doesn’t exist right now. In-school mental health services and other programs to meet kids’ social and emotional needs aren’t available. Extracurricular activities kids enjoy participating in outside of the school day have been canceled. The personal relationships kids depend on daily for support, guidance, encouragement and affirmation are on hiatus as everyone is encouraged to stay home.

For the last six weeks I’ve been writing about the most effective strategies research recommends to delay the onset of risky behaviors with middle school students. I’ve written about four of the five strategies – idealism, normative beliefs, personal commitment and parent/adult attention. In this week’s blog I was planning to write about the fifth and final prevention strategy. With all that’s been happening in our world this past week, especially with kids, it’s a very timely and important strategy to talk about.

The prevention strategy is “bonding.” Research shows the importance of every child having positive relationships with peers and adults.

Kids who have friends with prosocial values, opinions and common interests are more likely to influence each other in positive ways and increase the likelihood they won’t engage in risky behaviors.

Kids also need at least one positive adult in their life to decrease the likelihood they will participate in negative behaviors. For most kids, this adult is a parent. For other kids, the adult may be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or even YOU. Every child needs that one adult who will coach, cheer, guide, support, monitor and care for them.

Many of your students have friends and adults in their life who are influencing them in positive ways. But, there are also students who do not have positive friends or who have no friends at all. There are also students who believe they don’t have any adult in their life who cares about them or who they can talk to about things important or concerning to them.

Research recommends our prevention efforts include the strategy of bonding – affirming and building long term, positive peer and adult relationships with students. I know what you might be thinking…It’s easier said than done. I agree. But, it’s so important.

With the shake up going on in the world and in the lives of kids right now, affirming and building positive relationships is more important than ever. Many of our kids are lacking routine and structure, getting less adult supervision and monitoring and having more idle time. If you couple all of this with also having friends whose influence is negative, the risk to engage in negative behaviors increases even more.

The relationships we have in our life right now and the people we stay connected with will make a difference in how we all make it through this challenging time – including your kids. Think about the students you work with who don’t have positive peer or adult influences in their life right now. What can you do to let them know you care? It might be as simple as a phone conversation, text message or Facetime call to simply say, “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you?” You never know how this one action, if done regularly, could have a huge and positive impact in the lives of your students right now.

Our world may be shaken up right now, but we will get through it. Practice patience. Show grace. Relax. Focus on what and who is important. Stay connected. You might be surprised how current relationships are strengthened, old relationships are renewed and new relationships are created – even with your students.

Stay in. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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